God bless Hugh McColl, but the man is 81 years old and 15 years removed from his retirement as Bank of America’s chairman and CEO. Surely Charlotte has the leadership to respond to this perilous moment in our city’s history without falling back on yesterday’s captains.
Instead, it was left to McColl to stand out Friday, given the vacuum of leadership we’ve seen over the past week. At a Charlotte Symphony concert for peace, McColl implored Charlotte to come together.
“I challenge everyone, particularly the white community, to begin today to talk with and listen to the concerns of each other,” McColl urged.
It’s the kind of constructive leadership he and others exhibited for so long and that helped Charlotte navigate some of its most challenging episodes. Following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the subsequent protests, we badly need it again.
We’ve seen little so far. Mayor Jennifer Roberts has been unsteady. She did not call for a state of emergency and backup help quickly enough. She didn’t set a curfew until 48 hours after the unrest started. And she didn’t push to release police video of the shooting until public clamoring became too much to ignore. Indeed, she said she hadn’t even watched the video as of at least Thursday morning.
Then there’s Congressman Robert Pittenger. The Charlotte Republican told the BBC Thursday night that the protesters “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” At a volatile time when we need enlightened leadership, the congressman for much of the city instead incites racial hatred. That’s reprehensible. (He later apologized.)
Critics dismiss those who say it as boosterish, but Charlotte truly has been a different kind of Southern city over the past 50 years. It has enjoyed the good fortune of being home to visionary and progressive business people and public servants. They oversaw the good times but, as importantly, they tackled landmark challenges head-on and without a political finger testing the wind.
In May 1963, as authorities turned fire hoses and police dogs loose on Birmingham protesters, and several other Southern cities endured violence over integration, Charlotte managed things differently. Prodded by activist Reginald Hawkins, the city’s civic and business leaders hatched a plan to integrate hotels and restaurants all at once, with prominent whites and blacks dining together. It went off peacefully, and Charlotte’s handling of it laid the groundwork for future economic growth.
In 1996, after a series of unarmed black residents were shot and killed by police, city leaders maintained peace by engaging in dialogue, creating a race relations task force and launching a civilian review board.
We need that kind of vision now to tackle both the immediate crisis and to clip its roots that run more deeply. This time, the effort must go beyond talk. It should engage residents of all ages and races, backgrounds and titles, to expand the economic pie, embrace those who are being left behind and build community trust with police.
Charlotte, we learned last week, is not immune to the tensions buffeting this nation. The question is how we will respond.